Thunderstorm Lightnings

One thing I'm very crazy about is trying to catch some lightnings during a thunderstorm. This is like a chase or a like a lottery but you can increase your chance of success with some simple tricks. Whenever a thunderstorm is forcasted for our city I observe the weather radar for possible storms and try to estimate their direction and strength. If a good storm is about to cross the city, which is not very often unfortunately, I set up my tripod and camera on my balcony and wait for it to arrive. My Balcony is on a higher floor so my view is not blocked by any other buildings. It's a quite ideal place because of the view and because it is proteced by a roof.

The setup is as follows: The camera is mounted on a tripod, of course. I use my standard zoom lens EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 to get a relativly wide angle view of the sky. I try to select a focal length that covers a suitable amount of sky but not too much because the lightnings would be too small then. And here comes the lottery thing. You cannot cover the whole sky, so you have to select a part of it. But you cannot predict where a lightning will oocur. Therfore you need some luck that a lightning will cross the part of the sky you currently cover. In lucky situations the thunderstorm is happening in a limited part of the sky.

For selecting the focus I switch the lens to auto focus, set the focus and then switch the lens to manual focus. You have to repeat this whenever you change the focal length. The point that will increase your chance to catch a lightning is the shutter speed. I try to select the highest possible exposure time with not using a too high aperture value. Too high aperture values will unsharpen the image again. So I try to keep the range between 5 and 13. The higher the shutter speed value is, means the longer the exposure time is, the higher is the chance to catch a lightning. With this in mind, the best time of a day for chasing lightnings is the late afternoon to early evening. If the sky is too bright, you get too short exposure times which limits your chance of success. If it is too late and the sky is too dark, you have difficulties in getting the focus. Auto focus only works if clouds are visible. So, it should not be too bright anymore, but you still need to see some cloud structures for auto focus.

Additionally, to loose as little time as possible, I use the 10 seconds auto release timer mode of my camera where I can select a continous capture of 10 photos in a row. When pressing the release button, the 10 seconds timer starts and after the timeout the camera starts shooting 10 frames in a row. With a shutter speed of 10 seconds, for example, you cover a 100 seconds time period nearly continously which gives you a high chance for catching a lightning. After the 10 photos have been taken I immediately start the timer again. This procedure I repeat as long as possible. Often it happens that rain begins to fall and the stormy wind blows the drops around at my balcony. Then I have to finish my chase in order to protect my equipment. This set up works quite well. During yesterdays thunderstorm I got 5 lightnings within about 30 minutes before it started raining. This is a good quote for me.

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